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Spanish police investigate more property corruption scandals than ever before

They examined 164 cases, up 40% from 117 cases, figures from the Ministry of the Interior show. The number of arrests also increased from 134 in 2007 to 207 last year, it also revealed.

But a spokesman said the increased activity was down to more vigilance and work rather than an escalating property corruption crisis. He said that last year the Civil Guard introduced special teams dedicated to the property sector.

The teams concentrated on investigating town hall planning procedures and property scams. The spokesman admitted, however, that they had been staggered by the extent to the corruption and in some cases taking an official out for a drink had been enough to sway a decision.

They have been overloaded with documentation and paperwork but are determined to keep up a high level of investigation. The very nature of the work means that investigations can take years but the increased number of arrests was an indication of the work being done, he added.

'We began to investigate the case a year and a half before arresting the Mayor and other suspects last November,' said the head of one team investigating town planning corruption in Librilla, Murcia.

'We still have to examine a huge amount of documentation that we seized to know to what extent those arrested enriched themselves,' he added.

Suspects are often surprised when they are arrested. 'They say they are not doing anything different to their predecessors, and that they thought it was good for their community,' the spokesman said.